A critic for Entertainment Weekly magazine stated in an article that Meryl Streep is obviously the best actress alive today. I beg to differ. Are we really going to pass over Maggie Smith and Judi Dench and all the other great Dames for Meryl Streep? I may be the only self-respecting film critic who is not impressed with Meryl Streep as an actress.
Don’t get me wrong – I acknowledge Streep’s skill as a performer; but I am not bowled over by her measured, calculated acting style. She seldom becomes the character. She is always Meryl Streep acting, even if she is Meryl Streep acting well. If one looks close enough at her performance, one can see her playing the part – her acting shows, just as accidentally a woman’s slip might show below the hem of her skirt. We’re not surprised it’s there. We’re impressed that she’s so thorough in her attire. But we also know we shouldn’t see it.
Meryl Streep has more Oscar nominations than Katharine Hepburn. I’ll be damned if she gets more wins. You can’t really compare the two performers, but I will anyway. Meryl Streep is probably more skilled at her craft. Miss Hepburn developed her technique (if you can call it that) over time as she experimented with a wider variety of roles. But Miss Hepburn’s value always lay in her position as a personality, or persona, if you will.
I might criticise Meryl Streep for always being herself on screen, but in Hepburn’s case, that was the point. Many of the actresses of classic Hollywood served more as personalities than actresses: Bette Davis, that Crawford woman, Mae West, Lucille Ball, etc. They all of them had talent, to be sure, but as Hepburn herself says, “Show me an actress who isn’t a personality, and you’ll show me a woman who isn’t a star.” The problem is, Meryl Streep doesn’t have that powerful personal presence. I’m sure she’s very nice, but I don’t think she’s very interesting. Those women from the 1930s might not have been very nice, but my God! they were fascinating!
I don’t wish to attack Meryl Streep. I think she is a fine performer, an artist. In this one case, I am criticising the audience for being so impressed by her technical talent. There are many actresses out there who bring so much more to their films – talent, yes, but also soul, spirit, strength, courage, energy, life. I think what gives Meryl Streep the edge is her uncanny ability to pick great scripts. Man, can she pick ’em! In so many of her recent films, the characters have practically written themselves.
Meryl Streep, without a doubt, has landed roles with characters who carry their own weight. For example, both Margaret Thatcher and Julia Child are meaty characters who have a lot of unique characteristics that an actress can sink her teeth into, which Streep does very well. She’s also backed by writers, directors, make-up people, and costume departments which cultivate each film in order to show her of at her best. She has an acting style that pleases the public and with that she earned a position in the industry that affords her the luxury of decent parts. Good for her. Now let’s find scripts, directors, etc. for Viola Davis and see what happens there, why don’t we.